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NCCOS Research Project

Contaminants in Marine Resources of Vieques

Primary Contact(s): dave.whitall@noaa.gov
This project began in February 2014 and is Ongoing

Land based sources of pollution have the potential to negatively impact a variety of coastal resources, including fisheries stocks. This study is investigating the public perception that pollution is negatively impacting fisheries on the south shore of Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Why We Care
The impacts of decades of active bombing by the Navy on the marine ecosystem of Vieques continue to be a concern for local citizens. Recently, local fishermen expressed concern to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico that contaminants were negatively affecting fish catch on the south shore of Vieques. This study set out to determine if pollution is accumulating in fish at levels of ecological concern. Pollution, such as heavy metals and organics, can have adverse effects on marine ecosystems, including fisheries. Local concerns persist about the potential pollution related to historic Naval activities and their effects on fish populations on the south shore of the island.

What We Are Doing
In April 2014, the project team traveled to Vieques to meet with local fishermen, USEPA, USFWS and the US Navy.  The fishermen provided input on potential target species and on the areas they were most concerned about pollution impacting the fishery (Bahia Salina del Sur), as well as a possible “control” site that was fairly undisturbed (near Mosquito Pier).  USEPA and USFWS suggested adding sites in Ensenada Honda, based on their observations of where fishing was occurring.  NOAA staff and USN staff discussed field safety and logistics in order to ensure that the work could be completed as planned, given the significant safety issues (UXO) in the area.
After consultation with local fishermen, PRDNER staff and fish ecologists, the three target species selected were queen conch, spiny lobster and red hind grouper.  Using the map areas suggested by fisherman, USEPA and USFWS, combined with benthic habitat maps, three sampling strata were articulated in ArcGIS: Ensenada Honda, Bahia Salina del Sur and Mosquito Pier.  These were sub-divided into three sub-areas to ensure that sampling effort was spread across the entire selected space.
In August 2014, the project team returned to Vieques for the field mission. The Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (PRDNER) provided boat support for fishing and dive operations for the week.  Conch were targeted via hand collection (SCUBA), lobster were targeted using snares (SCUBA) and red hind were targeted with hook and line fishing using a variety of baits.  During the week long field mission, the team collected fifteen conch (including at least 3 from each sampling area), but only two lobster and zero red hind.  These samples were stored on ice and shipped overnight to Charleston, SC were they will be analyzed by the NCCOS lab there.
These data will be analyzed statistically and geospatially and summarized in a technical report due in FY15.

Benefits of Our Work
Data from this study will help determine if pollutants are accumulating in the tissues of marine resources.  This is an important first step to determine if there is the potential for pollution to be adversely affecting fish populations.

Next Steps
The findings from this study will be presenting in a technical report to be published in 2015.  Additionally, project staff will present the findings to the community of Vieques, and to relevant management agencies (PRDNER, USEPA, USFWS, DoD).

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